Ciudad Bolivar is a sprawling urban area in the southwestern part of Bogota. With an estimated population density of 45,000 inhabitants per square kilometer—Tokyo and New York City have less than 20 and 10 thousand respectively—the city has by most indicators the worst social conditions in Bogota. Reinaldo Niño, 57, lived in the streets of Ciudad Bolivar for 38 years he calls long and difficult. Today, he owns a business, has three full-time employees and his four children are through college.
Reinaldo Niño, 57, lived in the streets of Ciudad Bolivar for 38 years he calls long and difficult. Today, he owns a business, has three full-time employees and his four children are through college.
Reinaldo’s path to becoming the business man he is today began days after a police raid that cost him his right eye. He happened upon the remnants of a wool sweater in the middle of one of Bogota’s busiest intersections. From it, he knitted two scarves. He sold them downtown and reinvested the proceeds in materials to make four scarves, then six and so on. That is how he started experimenting with the idea of running a business.
Fast forward to 2007. When Reinaldo heard about Accion’s business training program—Dialogue on Business—he became interested in taking classes. He learned about cash management, bookkeeping, savings and investment. The lessons from these business training modules especially developed for adult learners earned Reinaldo local business leader status. He became involved in community activities and began to pass his knowledge forward to other microentrepreneurs. A few months later, Reinaldo received a U.S. $1,000 loan. He was able to purchase materials to build a loom and bought yarn and other supplies in bulk to improve his margins.
Currently, Reinaldo sells about five to seven million pesos a month (U.S. $2,700 – $3,800) worth of wool scarves. He pays his rent, contributes to a retirement plan and together with his wife can afford his children’s education.
Reminiscing about the long years he spent homeless, Reinaldo says, “Seven million pesos in sales isn’t that much, but I speak differently now. I dress differently.”
Since Reinaldo’s first loan, he has built not only a business that sustains his family, but also a loyal following of community members whom he has employed, trained and taught valuable life skills. Reinaldo’s hard work and determination have undoubtedly improved the lives of his family and employees, and some would argue, they have made Ciudad Bolivar a better place to call home.